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Oil search fuels tension over Lake Malawi

Lake Malawi, Malawi- Following recent oil finds in Uganda and Kenya, Malawi hopes to be the next East African country to strike black gold.

Report by CCN

Malawi has awarded British oil company Surestream Petroleum the only contract to search for oil beneath Lake Malawi, the body of water that borders Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania.

“We feel this area has a very high potential in the order of billions of dollars of recoverable oil,” says Keith Robinson, of Surestream.

“In a country the size of Malawi — it is not a large country, it does not have a large GDP — the income that could be generated for Malawi financially would be very, very significant,” he adds. “We think it could be a serious game changer for this country.”

But some fear that if oil is found, it could turn out to be more of a curse than a blessing.

Lake Malawi provides a livelihood for local fishermen. It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage site, invaluable for studying the evolution of fish, according to UNESCO.

Since the contract was won a year ago Surestream has been conducting an environmental survey to establish what impact drilling in this freshwater lake could have. The findings will be published shortly.

“Once all the environmental work is all understood, and it is agreed and accepted, we will then go to the lake and start the exploration process in earnest,” says Robinson. “That process will take a number of years.”

The prospect of drilling is a cause of concern for some of the people who earn a living from the lake.

Michael Kanjira has been fishing on the lake since he was 10. He fears the search for oil may prevent him from plying his trade. “It will be a big risk for us,” he says. “Our children are going to school through this money we get from fishing.”

Max Ngochera is a marine biologist. He says that if the lake becomes polluted with oil, a clean-up operation would be costly and any contaminant would take up to 700 years to drain naturally through the only river outlet.

“It is the lake with the most abundant fish species in the world, so it is very unique, it is very clear. It is not polluted yet so it is very unique in that sense,” says Ngochera.

He fears an oil spill could devastate this fragile ecosystem. “It would take lot of time until it either flushed itself out or the pollutants spread out — so it would be a huge task to bring the lake back to its pristine levels,” he says.

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